The Idiot’s Guide to Holy Ales

Alaskan IPA with a hoppy halo

Sure sign of a Holy Ale

Lots of ominous signs in the news these days.  North Korea is preparing to immolate Manhattan or launch a cyber attack against the online reservations systems of Nobu and Daniel to send New York’s well-healed foodies into a tizzy (not sure why they’d need to go to any of that trouble after simply sending Dennis Rodman back).  Assad may be using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels.  A Kardashian is apparently pregnant (with a reality fetus), Lindsay Lohan is still Lindsay Lohan, and the Virgin Mary appeared on a taco shell.  I’d be truly impressed if she showed up in the gelatinous coating surrounding Spam.  To each his own when it comes to Holy signs.

Mother Mary & The Stone Gargoyle have been said to appear .  Commence the pilrgimage!

Commence the pilgimage!

That got me thinking about craft beer (you wondered – me too – if I was going make that connection somehow).  Specifically, I started thinking about my term for the rare, the mythical, the “ungettable” craft beers: Holy Ales.  I wrote about one of my Quests for a Holy Ale last week but realized that I’d never given the topic of Holy Ales all that much thought.  Why are some Holy and others just spectacularly pious (really good)? Is it all about the beer itself or is there something more? A matter of faith or a matter of taste?

I figured the best way to understand how a beer achieves Holy Ale status would be to take a look at the ones already on my altar:

3 Floyds Dark Lord

3 Floyds Dark Lord

  • Russian River Pliny The Younger
  • Three Floyds Dark Lord
  • Deschutes The Abyss
  • Surly Darkness
  • Bell’s Hopslam
  • Founders KBS and CBS
  • Alchemist Heady Topper
  • Ballast Point Sculpin
  • Rogue Voodoo Doughnut (since defrocked)
  • Stone/Maui Coconut Macadamia Porter

That’s not the whole list but it was enough to get me started in trying to identify common traits implying Holiness (aside from the fact that darkness and evil seem to be tickets to my craft beer heaven.  Probably won’t be sharing this list with my Rabbi over a pint of He’Brew Glorious Jewbelation during Hanukkah).

First of all, there’s virtually no chance that any two craft beer fans will have identical lists of Holy Ales – just too many choices and too many varied tastes out there.  Regional availability plays a huge role as well.  In simplest terms, it’s all about basic economics but on a very personal scale: Supply vs. Personal Demand.  Milton Friedman had it figured out a long time ago and probably tweaked his theories at the Map Room Pub.

So now that I have the basics down (sort of), here are my Rules for attaining Holy Ale status.  Thine craft beer mayest be worshipped as Holy upon satisfactory passage of the following (and I’m not calling these commandments because I’m already in enough trouble and don’t want to be pummeled by frogs – I’m wearing red today and would end up looking like a Jewish Christmas Tree – like I said: enough trouble already):

  1. AVAILABILITY (or lack thereof).  Goes without saying that scarcity is a huge factor.  If you can your hands on a particular brew almost anytime you want , it just doesn’t feel “special”, though it may still be spectacularly pious.
  1. GEOGRAPHY.  Relates to availability.  What’s rare and difficult to get in one area may be a snap to obtain somewhere else. I don’t have Troegs Nugget Nectar on my list primarily because I can get plenty of it out here when its available – I love it.  It’s a special IPA.  I know many people think it belongs in the conversation with Hopslam, Pliny & Jai Alai.  If I lived in Fon Du Lac it would be Holy but I don’t, so it’s just a really fine sinner.

    Brewed every 50 years

    Brewed every 50 years

  1. REGULARLY (even if sparingly and only occasionally) BREWED.  That’s my way of saying one-offs don’t count.  I’m primarily talking about firkins.  Some of them are fantastic and highly prized but if we allowed them to attain Holiness the craft beer scene would resemble Pete Townshend’s  prescient lyrics of Exquisitely Bored in California: “pray TV looks like pay TV to me.”  In other words, there’d be too many Holy Ales preaching from the tap handles and we’d have a hard time finding our true prophets over profits.

I actually had a few other factors but then recognized that they all related to personal taste and that’s really where every craft beer geek’s list is going to go their separate ways.  I’ll never worship a Barley Wine, Belgian Tripel, or Doppelbock but others may brand me a blasphemous heretic for my beatification of IPAs or Double IPAs.

At the end of the day we all see the Holy Ale signs we want to see in the lacing.  I’m still waiting for the Stone Gargoyle to appear in mine.

What about your Holy Ales? Agree or disagree with my rules?  File an appeal with a comment…



6 thoughts on “The Idiot’s Guide to Holy Ales

  1. I see where you’re going with these rules. While I don’t really follow the whole limited release madness that consumes many a Beer Geek (I’m looking at you Philly Beer Peeps that stand in line for hours to get their annual helping of Pliny the Younger/Elder!), there are a few seasonals/hard to finds that I would love to try, and since we live in Craft Beer Central, with a bit of creativity or simply reaching out to our friendly Philly Beer connections, I think we can get what we want in most cases.

    That being said, I really need to try some Three Floyds and more from Boulevard. I also want more from Cigar City. A couple years ago, Maine Beer Company would have been on the list for just about anything, but now that we can get them in NJ, the only beer of theirs that is on my list would be King Titus.

  2. I thought about addressing he issue of manufactured or manipulated demand but decided that, for the most part, there’ almost an element of that do some degree. That said, Three Floyds Dark Lord Day is either the best, or worst of that dynamic depending on your perspective.

    I’m with you on limited pour ticket line angst. Not enough “research” time in the month to spend any of it on line to pay $30 for 6 ounces of anything. I might do that for an artisanal matzo ball soup or Thai iced tea but that’s about it.

  3. This may be regional bias, but Foothills Sexual Chocolate might be worthy of such a list as well. Cigar City’s Hunahpu, too, I suppose.

    I’d say that inclusion on my own list would require any beer nerd to get frothing at the mouth from mere discussion of the brew, at which point their face will inevitably melt Raiders of the Lost Ark style. Also, it must be good.

  4. Pingback: Beer Review – Maine Beer Company King Titus Porter | It's just the booze dancing...

  5. Are there sub categories to Holy Ales? For instance, Hopslam I don’t get a lot because I’m to lazy to make the 30 drive into one of the two states next to mine that carry it. KBS, as little of the same, but it’s definitely more rare than Hopslam.

    But in my mind Darklord is in a league by itself with all the hoop jumping 3F makes the Lordians do every year to procure a bottle. And in Philly, there’s actually a website that tracks when Pliny is going to be tapped, and when it is prepare to stand in line, and pay large price for a small taste of a beer that I’ve had people who’s opinions I trust tell me isn’t even the best beer RR makes.

    • Something like Prophet Ales? Perhaps. Actually, your comment relates to how you actually get your hands on a Holy Ale – the Quest itself. I’ve a separate list of rules for that as well. If I can negotiate a little me, myself time this weekend I’ll post them on Monday.

      As far as Pliny is concerned, I’ve been lucky enough to have it a few Philly craft beer bars over the past couple years. I can see why its so highly rated and a legitimate Holy Ale but I agree, its not their best brew and I’d rank 3F Dreadnaught ahead of it.

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